Tuesday, May 10, 2011

Album Review: Moving Mountains - Waves

The key to the success that led the two founders of Moving Mountains, Gregory Dunn and Nick Pizzolato, and their first creation, Pneuma, to the eventual doorsteps of Triple Crown Records wasn’t innovative musicianship or clever lyrical work; it was synthesis of many different genres that worked collectively to make a product whose success totaled the sum of its parts. Pneuma not only embodied the elements of many post-rock influences with its instrumental ambiance, but it wore Dunn’s lyrical heart on its sleeve in a fashion similar to bands such as The Appleseed Cast and Empire! Empire! (I Was A Lonely Estate); it had atmosphere, passion, and the necessary aural missteps to keep its production flawed, earnest, and in line with the aforementioned artists. In the four years since Pneuma’s release, Moving Mountains' base formula hasn’t changed substantially, as the synthesis of different ideas and genres are there in theory, but the band replaces their past focus on instrumental bands and dancing around sensitive lyrical topics with a more brash approach that displays a whole new breadth of influences that have shifted Moving Mountains’ focus. Not only is Waves Moving Mountains’ first approach at a full length as a complete band (Dunn and Pizzolato wrote Pneuma together), it is a culmination of the band’s newfound aggressive, sonically faster sound mixed with Dunn’s more blatantly honest lyrical search for answers for life, death and other musings that make the record a successful break from most, if not all of his and Pizzolato’s past influences.

The album picks up almost directly where the band’s last EP left off: with a relentless wall of driving guitars blaring during the opener “My Life Is Like A Chase Dream (And I’m Still Having Chase Dreams)” and Dunn brandishes his admiration of Underoath’s Spencer Chamberlain with the deep, gritty screams fans heard on Moving Mountain’s Foreword. What hasn’t carried from the EP however is the atmospheric, instrumental crawl that would eventually lead up to said screams. The abrupt arrival of these harsh vocals without the slow ascension makes for a surprisingly chaotic opener for a band known to take their sweet time to reach their climax in past works. 

Speaking as a fan of older Moving Mountains myself, I can say that yes, it is extremely off-putting to at first hear a band known for combining much less common genres into the throes of alternative rock and post-hardcore. The Vhiessu-era of Thrice and Underoath's career following their album Define The Great Line both come to mind when stamping out the musical aura that surrounds the album, and combining the more typical sounds of those two with a band loved for their previous influences makes Waves a difficult pill to swallow at first. That change of face hasn't completely eradicated the moments that fans loved about Moving Mountains though, and the simplistic, yet enjoyably surging chorus within "The Cascade" that breaks into an ensemble of gentle ringing, spatial atmosphere, and a remarkable appearance by Kenny Bridges of Moneen in the song will give older fans (another) reason to still swoon over Waves. With gentle pieces like "Once Rendering" and the soaring vocals from Dunn within "Parts In Different Places" that still retain that quiet determination that drove the beauty of Pneuma, Waves does manage to at least represent some of the core attributes of Moving Mountains, but it's undeniable that the particulars of Pneuma are noticeably absent and will be missed when compared to their more mainstream counterparts in Waves.

With those regrets said, Moving Mountains has found a great deal of strength within their new sound, and it shows in no place better than the song "Alleviate." The song captures the Thrice-like drive that the earlier songs of the album attempt to exhibit, and its momentum propels Dunn's lyrical imagery to a desperate beauty equivalent of fan favorite Moving Mountain song "8105." "You can't wake up if you don't dream of anyone or anything/ (I am blind here, stitching my skin.) You can't get up if you're not falling down/ (I just want to hold it. To feel the air, and know it will never heal.)/ And I am finally feeling like I could die again, and it wouldn't mean a thing in the end," cries Dunn and guitarist Frank Graniero respectively, both of them vocally making "Alleviate" Waves' strongest composition.

With its strengths and absences, Waves will feel like a very disorienting chapter in Moving Mountain's career to past fans; the ambiance is minuscule, the abstract lyrics have all but disappeared, and the band exhibits a sense of confidence that has never felt stronger. Gone are the musical moments of Pneuma where the band almost danced around sensitive topics and seemed focused on juggling an emulation of their instrumental heroes while maintaining an emotional rock sound. Waves' has replaced their past influences with a set of new aggressive ones that may make Waves feel a little less special than its predecessor, but Moving Mountain's core formula remains present for the patient fans of Pneuma that have been waiting for a proper sequel. Those patient fans that may be taken aback at the new style should do well to remember this: the trees may not sing like they used to, but every song they sing is new, impressive territory for Moving Mountains and is still worth hearing. 

Buy it here.

Track Listing:
  1. My Life Is Like a Chase Dream (And I'm Still Having Chase Dreams) 
  2. Where Two Bodies Lie 
  3. Tired Tiger 
  4. The Cascade 
  5. Once Rendering 
  6. Always Only For Me 
  7. Alleviate 
  8. Parts In Different Places 
  9. Furnace Woods 
  10. Full Circle